This Thursday, I’m pleased to bring you Vonda Sinclair, a Scottish historical romance author who really knows how to bring those Highland Heroes to life. We’ll take a peek into what inspires Vonda, and her romance, My Fierce Highlander.
Let’s take a peek at My Fierce Highlander first, because the cover is gorgeous and the hero is even more magnificent.
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Gwyneth Carswell, an English lady banished by her father to the harsh Scottish Highlands, wants nothing more than to take her young son away from the violence of two fighting clans--her own distant kin, the MacIrwins, and their enemies, the MacGraths. She risks everything to rescue the fierce MacGrath warrior from the battlefield where he’s left for dead by her clan. She only knows she is inexplicably drawn to him and he wants peace as she does. When her clan learns of her betrayal, they seek vengeance. Dare she trust the enemy more than her own family?
Laird Alasdair MacGrath is driven to end two-hundred years of feuding with the MacIrwins. But by taking in and protecting Lady Gwyneth and her son, he provokes more attacks from his mortal enemy. As the danger and conflict surrounding them escalate, Alasdair and Gwyneth discover an explosive passion neither of them expected. With the arrival of a powerful man from her past, a horrible decision confronts her--give up her son or the man she loves.
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Mmm. Battles, highlands, and romance – what more could you ask for?
So tell us, Vonda, when did you start writing, did you start in the genre you’re published in now, what hurdles did you have to overcome, etc.
VS: As a child, I had imaginary stories in my head all the time. I didn't write any of them down until I was about eleven years old. I wrote two or three short stories that were kinda spooky and suspenseful. (My dad always told me lots of ghost stories.) Then I didn't write any more stories until after college. At that point I started reading romance more and I thought, why not create my own story, and my own hot hero, fantasy material? LOL Great heroes are generally my favorite part of romance novels. I started writing in contemporary because the research necessary for historical intimidated me at the time. But once I tackled the research, I found I enjoyed it. There are always plenty of hurdles on the trail to getting published. Like most authors, I experienced several rejections. But I kept learning and believing in myself. I didn't give up.
That seems to be the theme this month – don’t give up, persevere. It’s the only true formula for success.
Obviously you write Scottish historical romance. Is that your favorite genre to read?
VS: Yes, absolutely. I love, love, LOVE reading Scottish historical romance. There's something about the setting which is magical and Scottish characters are always close to my heart.
So My Fierce Highlander is exceptionally enticing. (And I’ll say it again… what an amazing cover.) What other books do you have available to satisfy our need for sexy kilts and the majestic highlands of Scotland?
VS: My Fierce Highlander is my only published book so far. Next will be My Wild Highlander. It is about Alasdair's brother Lachlan. (Alasdair being the hero of My Fierce Highlander.) Lachlan is a rake and a rogue known affectionately as Seducer of the Highlands. He loves all women, so how can he settle with only one? But the king decrees he marry Lady Angelique, a thorny half-French lass who would rather stab Lachlan than kiss him.
Hee hee. Oh I love it! I can’t wait for it to come out. It’s been a while since I’ve read a feisty heroine, and she sounds like she’s right up my alley.
Back to My Fierce Highlander. How did the idea spur, did you have to do much research, any interesting tidbits that we should know?
VS: The idea must have come to me in a dream, or in my sleep. When I woke up one morning, the idea was playing out in my head. I saw the first few scenes of the book, the heroine (a healer) rescuing the injured and unconscious hero from a Highland battlefield, actually the site of an ambush. He's from the enemy clan. The multitude of possible conflicts lit my imagination on fire. What kind of repercussions would her actions have? Would the heroine's own clan turn out to be worse than the enemy (hero's) clan? When writing historical, every tiny detail has to be researched: clothing, food, homes, customs, settings, weather, and many other things. I love doing hands-on research in Scotland. There's nothing like experiencing the weather or a castle or a moor, first hand.
I so envy your first-hand research. One of these days I hope to visit the castles and moors myself. Color me officially jealous!
Tell us about Alasdair. What’s one thing about him that we wouldn’t necessarily learn in the book? A secret dream, an embarrassing habit, an episode from childhood.
VS: That's a tough question because I generally expose every corner of the point of view character's psyche, especially if it's a hero or heroine. But Alasdair does hide things from the clan and Gwyneth. He's a strong but compassionate leader, very down-to-earth, level-headed and realistic. In battle, he's fierce. But what a lot of people don't know about him is he can become playful and wicked in the bedchamber. Although he feels he's out of practice in the seduction department, he does a stellar job when he decides Gwyneth is the only woman for him.
Ooh. Yes, as I said… magnificent. (Trust me, girls!) Can I trade pla—Oh, sorry! Getting carried away there. Ahem.
What kind of pet would best suit his personality?
VS: I think a Deerhound or Wolfhound would be his pet of choice.
All heroes are unforgettable in one way or another. What’s one thing about Alasdair that makes your heart go pitter-pat?
VS: Aside from him being a strong, confident and hot alpha chief, he is also very attentive to Gwyneth. What he likely doesn't want anyone to know is he would move heaven and earth in order to give her what she wants. His intense and unwavering devotion to her made me fall in love with him. I love it when a strong man stakes his claim.
Since you mention her, let’s talk about Gwyneth. Everybody has flaws. Sometimes they are endearing, other times they are annoying. What is Gwyneth’s greatest fault?
VS: She believes her greatest fault is how she's drawn into sensual pleasures. Actually this has only happened to her twice, and the first time nearly destroyed her life. And despite knowing she shouldn't give in to physical desires with the hero, Alasdair, he is almost impossible to resist. But I see her greatest fault and her greatest strength to be her stubbornness. It is a strength in that she is a survivor who adapts to whatever the situation demands. It is a flaw in that she thinks she wants a certain thing, but once she has that, she isn't so sure anymore. She was too stubborn to see the truth.
Without giving away details that might spoil the story for those who have not read it yet (Go buy it!), could you tell us the one strength Gwyneth provides to Alasdair?
VS: Alasdair has been a widower for two years as the story opens. He loved his wife and remained faithful to her even two years after her death. But when he meets Gwyneth, he realizes he was not truly living during those two years of grief. Gwyneth brings his life into sharp, colorful focus. She brings him happiness and a reason to smile.
If Gwyneth was your daughter – what advice would you give her upon meeting your hero?
VS: Hang onto him, girl, and don't let go! :)
Okay, Vonda, now that we have some background, and we know these to manage to overcome some significant hurdles, if we peek in on Alasdair and Gwyneth’s lives ten years from now, can you give us a glimpse of what we’d see?
VS: They will still be happily married, living in the same place, with a few children in tow. :)
With all that to entice us, let’s take a peek at these two in action:
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“Let’s hide him in the cattle byre. ’Twill be safer should Donald come by,” Gwyneth said.
Mora narrowed her eyes. “You’re being mighty canny of a sudden.”
“Well, I know if he finds us hiding his enemy, he’ll likely fly into a violent rage.”
“Aye, and kill us all,” Mora grumbled.
Gwyneth shoved the dread away and ignored her friend’s pessimistic view. “We shall hide him well.”
They dragged the MacGrath into the stone byre, which stood several yards from the cottage, and rolled him onto a wool blanket on the hard-packed dirt floor.
After a trip to the cottage, Mora lit several fir roots in order to find his wounds.
“A bonny lad, he is,” Mora proclaimed.
Lad, indeed. Rory was a lad. This giant was a man full grown. But bonny, yes. In the soft flame-light, his midnight hair, his equally dark brows and thick lashes captured Gwyneth’s attention.
Open your eyes.
They would be dark too, would they not? Dark as tempting, dangerous sin in the blackest night. Beard stubble shadowed his authoritative jaw and framed his sensual mouth.
I am going daft, noticing such things at a time like this.
Forcing herself to ignore his face, she unfastened the brass brooch shaped like a falcon that held the upper part of his blue plaid in place over his shoulder, removed the brown leather pouch-like sporran from his waist and dropped the brooch inside.
“Do you not think he’s the laird?” Gwyneth raised his strong hand to show Mora the seal ring, the heat of him seeping beyond her skin.
“Aye, I’d wager he is the young laird. I’ve never laid eyes on the man afore now. Though I recollect hearing of the old laird’s passing sometime back, and he does favor him. ’Course all the MacGraths have a certain dark look about them.”
Gwyneth tugged the ring from his finger and placed it in the sporran.
“His clothes are of fine material.” Mora pushed the doublet open. “And would you look at this.” She pulled a gleaming brass-hilted dagger from inside the garment, near his armpit.
She used the sharp weapon to cut his bloody clothing away from his upper body.
Holding her breath, Gwyneth could but gape as each inch of skin and sculpted muscle was revealed. Among the multitude of scars on his chest, two long shallow sword cuts oozed blood. A lead ball from a pistol had grazed his shoulder, leaving a furrow of torn flesh.
She would stitch him up so he would heal, good as new.
A slice in his plaid alerted them to another wound. Mora unhooked his leather belt and eased his kilt down to reveal a cut to the right side of his lean waist close to his pelvic bone.
Wanton excitement stirred within Gwyneth at the sight of this enemy Scot’s near-naked body. I should close my eyes, look away. He is a patient. Heat seared her from the inside out.
Though she’d attended to many an unclothed man after a skirmish or during sickness, she had never seen a man so beautifully formed. God had certainly smiled upon him.
“’Tis shallow,” Mora said. “He’s lucky they didn’t strike his vitals.”
They cleaned his wounds with a wash of royal fern steeped in clean water, stitched up the deeper cuts, then smeared them with a paste of fern and comfrey.
“My, but a fine-looking man he is, aye?” Mora smiled and winked. “Reminds me of my own big Geordie afore he passed on.”
Indeed, fine-looking was too mild a term, in Gwyneth’s estimation but she ignored the question. She would not have Mora know of the embarrassing effect the man was having on her.
Most men of her acquaintance were the same—arrogant, cruel, and harsh. Whether fancy English gentlemen or braw Scottish warriors, they only thought of their own superiority and how they might wield power over others. Women were naught but chattel and thralls. By helping to save this one’s life, she was gambling, hoping to win peace.
“Och, here’s what ails him most.” Mora examined the Scot’s head. “He’s bashed his skull and good.”
“Let me see.” Gwyneth knelt on the dirt floor above him. His hair was sticky with blood, and a knot swelled on the back of his head. “It seems to have stopped bleeding.”
“Aye. Not much to be done for it, anyway.”
Nevertheless, Gwyneth cleaned the wound and applied the herbal paste as best she could in his thick hair. She concentrated on her task more intently while Mora covered him with a blanket and worked his plaid out from under him. Gwyneth tried not to think about his nakedness beneath it. Surely it was a sin to hold such thoughts.
“We’ve done all we can for him. He’s in God’s hands now. ’Tis off to bed, I am.”
Carrying his belongings, Gwyneth walked with Mora back to the cottage and hid his things in a rough wooden chest. She approached the bed where Rory lay. Relieved he’d slept through the commotion, she kissed his forehead and straightened. “I’ll go back out and sit with the MacGrath man for a short while.”
“Suit yourself. Best take your sgian dubh with you, just in case he wakes up none too happy about where he’s at.”
Gwyneth nodded and touched the dirk hidden in her bodice to be sure it was still there. She hoped she wouldn’t have to defend herself against a man she was trying to help. But, the truth was, she didn’t know him or what he might do.
Above the dark rounded peaks of the mountains, a quarter moon peeped through the clouds, providing the faintest of light for her to navigate the path to the byre. A whitish-gray mist crawled up from the glen, reminding her of the souls of the recently departed and giving her a chill. She inhaled the scent of rain before entering the tiny building and closing the door.
The handsome stranger lying insensible on the floor drew her gaze. The old plaid blanket did little to conceal his fine form, large and well-trained for battle, hard and heavy with muscle. She hoped she wouldn’t regret helping him. If he carried a peace treaty, surely he was a good man. A better man than Donald MacIrwin, at least.
Now, if only this MacGrath would awaken and return to his own lands, she would rest much easier. If he could somehow bring peace, she would be doubly grateful. But she feared there would be no peace as long as Donald MacIrwin drew breath.
Through the door, the haunting, fluted call of a curlew reached her. Gwyneth shivered. Mora had told her more than once that a curlew heard at night was a bad omen.
My Fierce Highlander copyright 2011 Vonda Sinclair
Before you go, Vonda, I’d like to know what’s been the greatest contributing factor to achieving the goals you’ve accomplished?
VS: Determination and perseverance. Writing a novel may be difficult but sometimes that is the easiest part. A writer has to be self-motivated. They have to push through the hard times and make it happen.
Writing has changed my life in a lot of ways. How has it changed yours?
VS: Writing gave me purpose and direction. Before I started writing I floundered with no idea what I really wanted to do as far as a career. Once I found writing, even though it's been a rough road, it is the only thing I want to do.
Many writers describe themselves as "character" or "plot" writers. Which are you?
VS: I'm a character writer. I love discovering characters and learning everything about them and their pasts. I love character interaction, behavior and creating conflict between characters. When a character comes to life in my head, and on the page, it feels magical.
What would you like to say to writers who are reading this interview and wondering if they can keep creating, if they are good enough, if their voices and visions matter enough to share?
VS: If you have a strong need to write, then go for it. Keep learning. Realize you probably can't see your own writing flaws. Turn weaknesses into strengths. Go after what you want with determination. It is up to you and you have to make it happen.
Very wise words. I concur whole-heartedly!
Okay – tell us where we can find you:
VS: Website: http://www.blogger.com/www.VondaSinclair.com
Thanks for stopping by, Vonda! I hope you’ll drop back in when Lachlan is ready to let us into his life!